Chapter 2: London to Rio De Janeiro

We dipped our ensign in a last farewell to London as we passed out from St. Katherine’s Dock, and turned our nose down-river for Gravesend, a tiny vessel even amongst the small shipping which comes thus far up the river. We were accompanied on this part of our journey by Mr. Rowett, who had taken a keen personal interest in everything connected with the expedition. Enthusiastic crowds cheered us at the start, and everybody we met wished us “Good luck and safe return.” The ensign was kept in a continuous dance answering the bunting which dipped from the staffs of every vessel we met. Ships of many maritime nations were collected in this cosmopolitan river, and these, too, joined in wishing success to our enterprise.

At Gravesend Mr. Rowett left us, and Sir Ernest returned with him to London with the object of rejoining at Plymouth. A strong north-easterly wind was blowing, and we lay for the night off Gravesend. In the small hours of the morning we were startled from sleep by the watchman crying, “The anchor’s dragging!” and turned out to find that we were bearing down on a Thames hopper that was moored near by. The Quest would not answer her helm, and before we were able to bring her up she had fouled the stays of the hopper with her bowsprit. Pyjama-clad figures leapt from their bunks, and in the dim light presented a curious spectacle. Two or three of our men jumped on to the deck of the hopper, and by loosening a bolt succeeded in letting go one of her stays, when we swung free.

Kerr rapidly raised a sufficient pressure of steam in the boilers to get the engines going, and we soon regained control.

We brought up with our anchor, which had been acting as a dredge, the most amazing collection of stuff, which gave an interesting sidelight on the composition of the Thames floor.

No damage was received beyond a chafe to the bowsprit. We were anxious, however, to leave with everything in good order, and so proceeded to Sheerness Dockyard, where a new spar was put in for us by the naval authorities with a promptness and dispatch that contrasted strongly with the dilatory methods employed previously in the shipyards.

We had an exceptionally fine trip down Channel under the pilotage of Captain F. Bridgland, who was an old friend of ours, having taken the ship from Southampton to London.

We reached Plymouth on the 23rd, and were joined there by Sir Ernest Shackleton and Mr. Gerald Lysaght, a keen yachtsman, who had been invited to accompany us as far as Madeira. The Boss brought with him an Alsatian wolf-hound puppy, a beautiful well-bred animal with a long pedigree, which had been presented to him by a friend as a mascot. “Query,” as he was named, quickly became a fast favourite with all on board. Mr. Rowett also came from London to see us off, and we had with him a last cheery dinner. He was very popular with all of us, for in addition to his support of expedition affairs he had taken a personal interest in every member of the company.

On the 24th we steamed out into the Sound and moored to a buoy, where the ship was swung and the compasses adjusted by Commander Traill-Smith, R.N., who kindly undertook this important work. The Admiralty tug used to swing the Quest accentuated her smallness, for she was many times our size and towered high above us.

This task completed, we put out to sea, pleased, as Sir Ernest Shackleton said at the time, to be making our final departure from a town that has ever been associated with maritime enterprise.

The following extracts are from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s own diary:

Saturday, September 24th, 1921.

At last we are off. The last of the cheering crowded boats have turned, the sirens of shore and sea are still, and in the calm hazy gathering dusk on a glassy sea we move on the long quest. Providence is with us even now. At this time of equinoctial gales not a catspaw of wind is apparent. I turn from the glooming immensity of the sea and, looking at the decks of the Quest, am roused from dreams of what may be in the future to the needs of the moment, for in no way are we shipshape or fitted to ignore even the mildest storm. Deep in the water, decks littered with stores, our very life-boats receptacles for sliced bacon and green vegetables for sea-stock; steel ropes and hempen brothers jostle each other; mysterious gadgets connected with the wireless, on which the Admiralty officials were working up to the sailing hour, are scattered about. But our twenty-one willing hands will soon snug her down.

A more personal and perplexing problem is my cabin—or my temporary cabin, for Gerald Lysaght has mine till we reach Madeira—for hundreds of telegrams of farewell have to be dealt with. Kind thoughts and kind actions, as witness the many parcels, some of dainty food, some of continuous use, which crowd up the bunk. Yet there is no time to answer them now.

We worked late, lashing up and making fast the most vital things on deck. Our wireless was going all the time, receiving messages and sending out answers. Towards midnight a swell from the west made us roll, and the sea lopped in through our washports. About 1 A.M. the glare of the Aquitania’s lights became visible as she sped past a little to the southward of us, going west, and I received farewell messages from Sir James Charles and Spedding.[1] I wish it had been daylight.

At 2 A.M. I turned in. We are crowded. For in addition to McIlroy and Lysaght, I have old McLeod as stoker.

Sunday, September 25th.

Fair easterly wind; our topsail and foresail set. All day cleaning up with all hands. We saw the last of England—the Scilly Isles and Bishop Rock, with big seas breaking on them; and now we head out to the west to avoid the Bay of Biscay. With our deep draught we roll along like an old-time ship, our foresail bellying to the breeze. The Boy Scouts are sick—frankly so, though Marr has been working in the stokehold until he really had to give in. Various messages came through. To-day it has been misty and cloudy, little sun. All were tired to-night when watches were set.

Monday, 26th. 47° 53´ N., 9° 00´ W.

A mixture of sunshine and mist, wind and calm. Passed two steamers homeward bound, and one sailing ship was overhauling us in the afternoon, but the breeze fell light, and she dropped astern in the mist that came up from the eastward. Truly it is good to feel we are starting well, and all hands are happy, though the ship is crowded.

Two hands have to help the cook, and the little food hatchway is a blessing, for otherwise it is a long way round. Green is in his element, though our decks are awash amidship. He just dips up the water for washing his vegetables.

With a view to economy he boiled the cabbage in salt water. The result was not successful.

The Quest rolls, and we find her various points and angles, but she grows larger to us each day as we grow more used to her. I asked Green this morning what was for breakfast. “Bacon and eggs,” he replied. “What sort of eggs?” “Scrambled eggs. If I did not scramble them they would have scrambled themselves”—a sidelight on the liveliness of the _Quest_. Query, our wolf-hound puppy, is fast becoming a regular ship’s dog, but has a habit of getting into my bunk after getting wet.

We are running the lights from the dynamo, and, when the wireless is working, sparks fly up and down the backstays like fireflies. A calm night is ours.

Tuesday, 27th—Wednesday, 28th. 43° 52´ N., 11° 51´ W. 135 miles.

Another fine day. Not much to record. All hands engaged in general work on the ship. In the afternoon the mist arose and the wind dropped. At night the wind headed us a bit, and we took in the topsail. Marr was at the wheel in the first watch, and did well. Mooney, at present, is useless. A gang of the boys were employed turning the coal into the after-bunkers—a black and dusty job; but they were quite happy. We passed a peaceful night. This morning the wind practically dropped. What little there was came out ahead, so we took in all sail. The Quest does not steam very fast, 5½ being our best so far. This rather makes me think, and may lead to alterations in our plans, for we must make our time right for entering the ice at the end of December, and may possibly have to curtail some of our island work or postpone it until we come out of the South. This morning we are in glorious sunshine—the sea sapphire-blue and a cloudless sky; but, alas! noon, in spite of our pushing, gives us only 135 miles. We have allowed a current of 7 miles N. 12° W.

Gerald Lysaght is one of our best workers, and takes long spells at the wheel. Occasionally little land-birds fly on board, and our kittens take an interest in them, as yet unknowing their potential value as food or game(?). How far away already we seem from ordinary life!

I stopped the wireless last night. It is of no importance to us now in a little world of our own.

Wednesday, 28th—Thursday, September 29th, 1921. Lat., 42° 9’ N. Long., 13° 10’ W. Dist., 116’.

A strong wind, with high seas and S.S.W. swell; strong squalls were our portion. The ship is more than lively and makes but little way. She evidently must be treated as a five-knot vessel dependent mainly on fair winds, and all this is giving me much food for thought, for I am tied to time for the ice. I was relieved that she made fairly good weather of it, but I can see that our decks must be absolutely clear when we are in the Roaring Forties. Her foremast also gives me anxiety. She is not well stayed, and I think that the topsail yard is a bit too much. The main thing is that I may have to curtail our island programme in order to get to the Cape in time. Everyone is cheerful, which is a blessing, all singing and enjoying themselves, though pretty well wet; several are a bit sick. The only one who has not bucked up is the Scout Mooney. He seems helpless, but I will give him every chance. I can see also that we must be cut down in crew to the absolutely efficient and only needful for the southern voyage.

Douglas is now stoking and doing well. It will, of course, take time to square things up and for everyone to find themselves; she is so small. It is only by constant thought and care that the leader can lead. There is a delightful sense of freedom from responsibility in all others; and it should be so. These are just random thoughts, but borne in on one as all being so different from the long strain of preparation. It is a blessing that this time I have not the financial worry or strain to add to the care of the active expedition. Lysaght is doing very well, and so is the Scout Marr.

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s diary ends at this point, and there are no other entries till January 1st, 1922.

The Wireless Operating Room | Photo: Sport & General
The Ward Room of the Quest | Photo: Topical
The Quest Passing the Tower of London On Her Way to the Sea | Photo: Sport & General
The Schermuly Portable Rocket Apparatus | Photo: Dr. Macklin

We now began to settle down to our new conditions of life.

In the deck-house were five small cabins. The Boss and I had the two after ones, but at this time Mr. Lysaght, or the “General” as he was called by all of us (like most nicknames, for no particular reason), occupied one of them, whilst the Boss and I shared the other.

Worsley and Jeffrey had a cabin running the full breadth of the house and the roomiest in the ship, but it had also to act as chart-room. Macklin and Hussey occupied a tiny room of six feet cubed on the starboard side, which contained the medicine cupboard. Here, in spite of restricted space, they dwelt in perfect harmony, due, as they were wont to say, “to both of us being non-smokers.” They were known collectively as “Alphonse and D’Aubrey,” but how the names originated it is impossible to say, for though the versatile Londoner might at times have passed as a Frenchman, the same could not be said for the more phlegmatic Scot.

The corresponding room on the port side housed the meteorological instruments and the gyroscopic compass.

Wilkins and Bee Mason had bunks in the converted forecastle, which contained the photographic dark room, a work bench for the naturalist, and numerous cupboards for the storing of specimens. Wilkins, an old campaigner, had used much foresight and ingenuity in fitting it up, and had utilized the limited space to the utmost advantage. Their cabin was indeed a dim recess and at first proved very stuffy, but before we were many days out Wilkins had designed and fitted an air-shoot, which acted very well and enormously improved the ventilation. Green, the cook, had a cabin beside his galley, which was always warm from the heat of the engine-room—too much so to be comfortable in temperate climes, but he looked forward to the advantage he would derive when we entered the cold regions. All the others lived aft and occupied bunks which were situated round the mess-room and opened directly into it, unscreened except by small green curtains, which could be drawn across when the bunks were unoccupied. It was by no means a pleasant or convenient arrangement, but, with the small size of the ship and general lack of space, the only one possible under the circumstances. The mess-room itself was small, boasting the simplest of furniture: two plain deal tables, four forms, a cupboard for crockery, and a small sideboard. At the foot of the companion-way was a rack of ten long Service rifles. Two of the forms were made like boxes with lids, to act as lockers.

The seating accommodation just admitted all hands to sit together, not counting the cook and the cook’s mate and four men who were always on watch. They sat down to a second sitting. The food was of good quality, plain, and simply cooked. Three meals a day were served: breakfast, lunch, and supper. The Boss presided, and under his cheery example the new hands soon learned to make light of the strange and rather uncomfortable conditions.

Every day for breakfast we had Quaker oats, with brown sugar or syrup (salt for the Scotsmen) and milk, followed by bacon, with eggs (as long as they lasted), afterwards sausage or some equivalent, bread or ship’s biscuit, marmalade, and tea or coffee.

For lunch we usually had a hot soup, followed by cold meat, corned beef, tongue or tinned fish, and bread or biscuit, cheese, jam and tea.

Supper consisted of a hot meat dish, with vegetables, followed by some sort of pudding, bread or biscuit, and tea.

The galley was small, and contained a diminutive range and a number of shelves fitted with battens to prevent things flying off with the roll of the ship. The oven accommodation was small, and admitted of the cooking of one thing only at a time. Here Green reigned over his pots and pans, which, owing to the motion of the ship, proved more often than not to be elusive and refractory.

At meal-times the dishes were passed through a large window port into the messroom by the cook’s mate, and received by the “Peggy” for the day, who served the food and waited at table. Duty as “Peggy” was performed by each man in turn (with the exception of the watch-keeping officers), who also washed the dishes, cleaned the tables, and generally tidied up after each meal. Sir Ernest Shackleton had made it plain to all hands that no work was to be considered too humble for any member of the expedition.

Table-cloths were never used, but the tables were well scrubbed daily, so that they soon took on a fine whiteness. Fiddles were a permanent fitting except when we were in port, for the Quest never permitted us to do without them at sea, whilst in the worst weather even they proved useless to prevent table crockery from being thrown about.

In addition to Query there were on the ship two other pets in the form of small black kittens, one presented to us as a mascot by the Daily Mail, the other, I believe, the gift of a girl to one of the crew. They suffered a little at first from sea-sickness, but soon developed the most voracious appetites, and showed the greatest persistence in coming about the table for food. They clambered up one’s legs with long sharp claws, “miaowed,” and at every opportunity put their noses into jugs and plates. No amount of rebuffs had any effect upon them, and they had a curious preference for food on the table to that which was placed for them in their own dishes. Two more importunate kittens I have never seen. It is to be feared that one or two of the party slyly encouraged them, for we could never cure them of their bad habits.

The companion steps leading from the scuttle to the messroom were very steep, and at this time Query had not learned the art of going up and down, though he acquired it later. It used to be a common sight to see his handsome head framed in the opening of the window port through which Green passed the food, gazing wistfully at the dainty morsels which were being transferred to other mouths.

These first days with the Boss were very cheery ones, and I like to look back on them. There was little refinement on the ship and more than ordinary discomfort, yet each meal-time was a happy gathering of cheery souls, and conversation crackled with jokes, in the perpetration of which Hussey was by no means the least guilty. The strain of preparation had been a heavy one, and Sir Ernest seemed to be enjoying the quiet, the freedom and the mental peace of our small self-contained little world. I think he liked to find himself surrounded by his own men, and he was always at his best when he had a definite objective to go for.

There is something about life at sea, and the companionship of men who have lived untrammelled lives free from the restraints of convention, that I find hard to describe. I think it must be that it is more primitive. Certainly, one drops into it with a contentment that contrasts strongly with the feeling of effort with which one braces oneself to meet the more conventional circumstances of the return to civilized life. It is, I suppose, a matter of heredity and transmitted instinct which makes falling back to the primitive more easy than progress, meaning by “progress” the advance of artificiality and the tremendous speeding up of modern existence. Some such instinct must be present, for what else is there to tempt one from a cosy fireside and the morning paper?

We kept three watches, the watch-keeping officers being Worsley, Jeffrey and myself. The Boss kept no particular watch, but was always at hand to give instructions and take charge on special occasions. In my watch were McIlroy, Macklin and Hussey; in Worsley’s, Wilkins, Douglas and Watts; in Jeffrey’s, Carr, Eriksen and Bee Mason. Dell and McLeod acted as stokers. The two Scouts were at first employed in a generally useful capacity, helping the cook and lending a hand wherever required. In addition to his deck duties, each man had his own particular job to attend to. Before we had been out many days it became clear to all that in this trip we were to have no picnic, and that in life on the Quest we would have to adapt ourselves to all sorts of discomforts and inconveniences. However, we were committed to our enterprise, our work lay before us, and we settled down cheerfully to make the best of things.

The Quest in The North-East Trades | By Courtesy of Mr. John Lister
The Tow Net In Use | Photo: Dr. Macklin

A few extracts from the official diary will give an indication of conditions about this time.

Tuesday, September 27th.

The wind came round to S.E. and freshened up during the day. The Quest is behaving badly in the short head seas. We have had to take in sail and are proceeding under steam, making poor progress. Bee Mason and Mooney are rather off colour.

September 28th.

The wind has increased, with heavier seas. During the day the engines were stopped for adjustment. Kerr says the crank shaft is out of alignment, and expects further trouble. This happening so early in the voyage does not promise well for the trip, for, as the Boss says, we are already late and cannot afford much time in port.

September 30th.

A moderate gale blowing from the S.W. We made no headway into it, and the Boss decided to heave to with the engines at slow speed. This has given us an idea of the Quest’s behaviour in bad weather. The Boss is pleased with her sea-going qualities, for in spite of fairly heavy seas she has remained dry, taking aboard very little water.[2] She has a lively and very unpleasant motion, which has induced qualms of sea-sickness in many of the “land lubbers.” Bee Mason and young Mooney are hors de combat. They are both plucky. The Scout makes no complaint, but it is obvious that life to him just now is a terrible misery. He has tried hard to carry on his work. We wish we could do something for him, but there is little comfort on the ship.

October 2nd.

Head winds have continued to blow, against which we have made little headway. The engines have developed a nasty knock which is appreciable to all on the ship. Kerr insists that an overhaul is necessary, and Sir Ernest has decided to make for Lisbon. We accordingly headed up for “The Burlings,” and picked up the light about 6 P.M.

On October 3rd Kerr had to reduce the pressure of steam in the cylinders, as we were now proceeding slowly along the coast of Portugal in the direction of Cape Roca. The coast-line is very picturesque, dotted all along with old castles and pretty little windmills. We plugged slowly on, passed by many steamers which signalled us “A pleasant voyage,” to which we were kept busy answering “Thank you.” One of the beautiful modern P. & O. liners, coming rapidly up from behind, altered course to pass close to us, and we could not help envying her speed and comfort as, making nothing of the short steep seas in which we were rolling and pitching in the liveliest manner, she rapidly drew out of sight ahead.

Just before nightfall we reached Cascaes, at the mouth of the Tagus, where the pilot came aboard, but decided not to proceed till daybreak. We lay at anchor for some hours, and I rarely remember a more uncomfortable period than we spent here, jerking at the cable with a short steep roll that made one positively giddy. It was more than the Portuguese pilot could stand, for he moved us farther up the river into shelter, enabling us to get the first comfortable sleep since leaving the Scilly Islands.

We were taken by tug up the fast-running Tagus to Lisbon in the early morning, and later the Quest went into dock.

The work was entrusted to Messrs. Rawes & Co., and put in hand without delay. The source of all the trouble in the engine-room proved to be the crank shaft, which was out of alignment, and thus caused the bearings to run hot. The high-pressure connecting rod was found to be badly bent. The rigging also was altered and reset up.

We did not get away from Lisbon until Tuesday, October 11th.

Those whose work did not confine them to the ship made the most of their time ashore, the first move being to a hotel for the luxury of a hot bath and a well-cooked dinner. We were warmly entertained by the British residents, who during the whole of our stay showed us the greatest kindness and hospitality. Mooney was carried off by the Boy Scouts of Lisbon, who showed him the sights of the place. Marr, although an enthusiastic supporter of the Boy Scout movement, did not care to spend his whole time as a “kilted spectacle for curious Latins,” and, doffing his uniform, accompanied the others in their movements. Amongst other things, we paid a visit en masse to a bull-fight, which we found to be a much more humane undertaking than those carried out under the old Spanish system. The bull is not killed and, though goaded by the darts of the picadors to a fury, does not seem to be subjected to great ill-treatment. The horses, instead of being old screws meant to be gored, are beautiful animals, which the matadors take the greatest care to protect.

We had many visitors on board the ship, including the British and American Ministers, who were shown round by Sir Ernest. All, as in London, expressed their amazement at the size of the Quest, imagining her to be far too small for the undertaking.

We set out on October 11th for Madeira, having expended seven days of precious time.

On leaving the Tagus we again encountered strong head winds, which lasted four days, during which the Quest’s movements were such as to upset the strongest stomachs. Bee Mason and Mooney were once more hors de combat, and few except the hardened seamen amongst us escaped feeling ill, though they managed to carry on their work.

I think there must be very few people in these days of luxurious floating palaces that ever really have to endure the agonies of sea-sickness. If they do feel ill they can retire to their bunks, where attentive stewards minister to their wants. Few, however, have been in such a condition that they dared not take to their bunks, but have spent days and nights on deck, sleepless, sodden and cold, in a vigil of misery unbroken save to turn to when “eight bells” announces the watch, and struggle through the work until the striking of the bells again announces relief, unable to taste or bear the thought of food, and with a stomach persistently and painfully rebellious in spite of an aching void. Such is the fate of those who go to sea in small vessels, without stewards and without comforts, and where there is work to be done. I have nothing but admiration for the way some of the sea-sick men were sticking to their jobs. Among them was Marr, the Boy Scout, who showed the greatest hardihood and pluck.

Winds continued to blow from ahead till, on October 15th, the weather changed and we had a beautiful clear day, with little wind or sea and bright sunshine. Mooney and Bee Mason continued to suffer from sea-sickness all the way, the latter becoming quite ill with a high temperature. As the conditions we had met were likely to prove mild as compared with those we would encounter in the stormy southern seas, Sir Ernest Shackleton decided to send both of them home from Madeira. Let it be said here that it is probable that, if they had had their own way, each of them would have elected to continue with us, and this decision to send them back carries with it absolutely no stigma, for they showed extraordinary pluck and bore their trials uncomplainingly. To Mooney especially, a young boy gently nurtured, who had never before left his Orkney home, this portion of the trip must have meant untold misery. We greatly regretted losing both these companions.

A Porpoise Which Was Harpooned from the Bowsprit | Photo: Wilkins
Query | Photo: Wilkins
The Boss Gives Query a Bath | Photo: Wilkins

On leaving Lisbon the Boss had put the other Scout, Marr, to work in the bunkers, where he went through a gruelling test. He came out of the trial very well, showing an amount of hardihood and endurance that was remarkable. He suffered from sea-sickness, but never failed to carry out his allotted task, and thoroughly earned his right to continue as a permanent member of the expedition. I find in his diary the following entry:

I volunteered to go down the stokehold, and my first duty was that of trimming coal. It is a delightful occupation. It consists of going down to the bunkers and shovelling coal to within easy reach of the firemen. The bunkers are pitch black, and the air—well, there is no air, but coal dust. This gets into one’s ears, eyes, nose, mouth and lungs; one breathes coal dust. After I had trimmed sufficient coal, I commenced stoking. I got on fairly well for a first attempt, but did not like the heat.

Another entry which this boy made during the bad weather shows what he must have gone through, though nothing which he said at the time would have led one to suspect it:

Indeed, I was feeling more dead than alive … what with the rolling of the ship and the unsteady nature of my limbs—I was sea-sick, and I was much afraid I should fall into the fire or down the bilges. When I came off (my watch) I immediately made for my bunk, where I remained, without partaking of my breakfast or dinner, until 12.0 noon, when I got up again for my next watch….

Before leaving England the Boss had ordered a brass plate to be made, on which was inscribed two verses of Kipling’s immortal “If?” and had it placed in front of the bridge. Hussey, after a heavy day’s coaling in bad weather, was inspired to a version specially applicable to the Quest, which reads as follows:

If you can stand the Quest and all her antics,
If you can go without a drink for weeks,
If you can smile a smile and say, “How topping!”
When someone splashes paint across your “breeks”;

If you can work like Wild and then, like “Wuzzles,”
Spend a convivial night with some “old bean,”
And then come down and meet the Boss at breakfast
And never breathe a word of where you’ve been;

If you can keep your feet when all about you
Are turning somersaults upon the deck,
And then go up aloft when no one told you,
And not fall down and break your blooming neck;

If you can fill the port and starboard bunkers
With fourteen tons of coal and call it fun,
Yours is the ship and everything that’s on it,
Coz you’re a marvel, not a man, old son….

We arrived at Madeira on the 16th. Kerr had again a number of adjustments to make in the engine-room, and, with Smith, toiled hard all the time we were in harbour.

Madeira has been a favourite stopping place for all expeditions to the Antarctic. Here on October 4th, 1822, Weddell was received and assisted by Mr. John Blandy, whose firm has rendered help to many subsequent expeditions. On this occasion we were welcomed by the present Mr. and Mrs. Blandy and visited their beautiful estate on the hill.

We left after a two days’ stay. “The General” was due to return from here, but he had made himself so universally popular that Sir Ernest persuaded him to go on as far as the Cape Verde Islands. Neither our discomforts nor the vagaries of the _Quest_ had upset him in the slightest, and he had proved himself a useful member of the crew, taking a trick at the wheel and carrying on the work on deck generally. We now entered fine weather, and, running comfortably before the north-easterly trade winds, reached St. Vincent on October 28th. The engines had continued to give trouble, and Kerr reported that extensive repairs and readjustments would be necessary before continuing farther. They were carried out quickly and effectively by Messrs. Wilson, Sons & Co., who acted as our agents, and most generously supplied us on leaving with one hundred tons of coal free of all charge.

We said good-bye to “General” Lysaght, whom we saw depart with genuine regret. We had a farewell dinner, at which was produced all the best the Quest could offer, and when the Boss proposed “The General!” we drank his health and wished him luck. Although he was returning to home and comforts, he would, I believe, had it been possible, have accompanied us farther on our way. At the conclusion he was presented with an illuminated card, the combined work of all the artists aboard, but chiefly, I think, of Wilkins, which bore the following poem composed by the Boss:


After these happy days, spent in the oceanways,
Homeward you turn!
Ere our last rope slipped the quay and we made for the open sea
You became one of us.
You have seen the force of the gale fierce as a thresher’s flail
Beat the sea white;
You have watched our reeling spars sweep past the steady stars
In the storm-wracked night.
You saw great liners turn; high bows that seemed to churn
The swell we wallowed in;
They veered from their ordered ways, from the need of their time kept days,
To speed us on.
Did envy possess your soul; that they were sure of their goal
Never a damn cared you,
For you are one with the sea—in its joy and misery
You follow its lure.
In the peace of Chapel Cleeve, surely you must believe,
Though far off from us,
That wherever the Quest may go; what winds blow high or low—
Zephyrs or icy gale:
Safe in our hearts you stand; one with our little band.
A seaman, Gerald, are you!
—E. H. S.

On the 28th we set out, making course for St. Paul’s Rocks. We enjoyed excellent weather, with smooth seas on which the sun sparkled in a myriad of variegated points. We felt the heat considerably, which is natural, considering the confined space and general lack of artificial means of keeping cool, such as effective fans, refrigerators and iced water. Most of us slept on deck, under the stars which twinkled above us, large and luminous, in the tropic nights.

The Boss took Marr out of the stokehold about this time and placed him to assist Green as cook’s mate, a not very romantic job, but one which he carried out with his usual thoroughness. He had by now thoroughly found his feet, and took a deep interest in the sea life of the tropics: flying fish fleeing in shoals before the graceful bonito, which, leaping in the air to descend with scarcely a splash, followed in relentless pursuit; dolphins, albacore and the sinister fins of occasional sharks.

On November 4th a large school of porpoises came about the ship and played around our bows. Eriksen seized the opportunity to harpoon one of them, which we hauled aboard. Wilkins found in its stomach a number of cuttle-fish beaks. The meat we sent to the larder. The porpoise is not a fish, but a mammal, warm blooded and air breathing. It provides an excellent red meat, against which British sailors have for many years felt a strong prejudice, but which is eaten with relish by Scandinavians. We found it a pleasant change from tinned food.

One day we encountered a magnificent five-masted barque becalmed in the doldrums, all sail set and flapping gently with the slight roll. She was flying the French ensign, and on closer approach proved to be the La France, of Rouen. She presented such a beautiful sight,[3] with her tall masts and lofty spars reflected in the smooth sea, that we altered course to pass close to her and enable Wilkins to get some photographs. Sir Ernest spoke to her captain, who replied in excellent English, asking where we had left the trade winds, voicing what is the uppermost thought in the mind of every master of a sailing ship, the probability and direction of winds, on which depends their motive power.

We were amused to notice that though the Boss sent his voice unaided across the water with the greatest ease, the Frenchman required a megaphone to make audible his replies.

These beautiful vessels are fast being driven off the ocean in the competition with modern steamships, yet it is with a feeling of genuine regret that one sees them go, for with them departs much of the romance of the sea. The apprentice of to-day takes his training in steamers, and the modern seaman is beginning to regard sail as a “relic of barbarism.”[4] In the days when I first went to sea one might count masts and yards by the hundred in harbours such as Falmouth or Queenstown, but now they are to be found only in ones and twos. They were fine ships, the old clipper ships, and bred a fine type of seaman, yet “the old order changeth,” and in spite of an attempt to bring them into general use again, it is to be feared that they will gradually die out altogether.

Early on the morning of November 8th we sighted St. Paul’s Rocks, standing solitary and alone in the midst of a wide tropic sea. They were the first objective, and Sir Ernest arranged for a party to land there. We lay to under their lee and dropped a boat. Immediately a countless shoal of sharks came about us, their fins showing above water in dozens on every side. A considerable swell was running, making the approach difficult, but we effected a landing in a little horseshoe-shaped basin lying in the midst of the rocks. Wilkins, assisted by Marr, took ashore camera and cinematograph apparatus, and was able to get some excellent photos of birds.

Douglas, assisted by Dell, carried out an accurate survey and made a geological examination of the rocks. Hussey and Carr carried out meteorological work, taking advantage of a fixed base to send up a number of balloons for measuring the upper air currents. I had charge of the boat, with Macklin, Jeffrey and Eriksen as crew.

We noticed that the cove in which we had made the landing was simply alive with marine life of every kind, and so returned to the ship for fishing tackle. For bait we used crabs, which swarm in large numbers all over the rocks. There were two sorts, a large red variety and a smaller one dark green in colour. They were evil-looking things, and seemed always to be watching us intently, moving stealthily sideways, now in this direction, now in that. At the least sign of approach they darted with amazing rapidity into crevices in the rocks. Occasionally we saw them gather their legs under them and give the most extraordinary leaps of from two to three feet. Their jaws worked continually and water sizzled and bubbled at their mouths. Some of them had found flying fish which had flown ashore or been brought by the birds. It was a horrible sight—they tore the flesh into fragments with their powerful claws and crammed it into their mouths. The ownership was often disputed, the bigger crab always winning. Occasionally a small crab, hoping for some of the crumbs which might fall from the rich man’s table, would creep cautiously up behind. The bigger crab, however, permitted no depredations, but, waiting till the smaller one reached within a certain limit, would kick out suddenly with an unoccupied leg, causing the smaller one to hop hastily out of reach.

We spiked what we required with a boat-hook, and they made excellent bait, for it was necessary only to lower the hook to get an immediate bite. The landing of the catch, however, proved not so easy. The little cove swarmed with sharks, which were attracted by the boat, and came about us in scores. Looking down through the clear water, we could see fish in plenty flitting hither and thither with leisurely whisks of their tails, obviously quite at ease and not at all perturbed by the proximity of the marauders. The moment, however, we hooked one and started to pull it up, the sharks turned like a streak and went for it with such voracity that we had the greatest difficulty in getting it to the surface. What was worse, they frequently bit through the lines and took the hook also. Finally, we were compelled to reinforce the lines with wire. On one occasion I succeeded in getting a fish clear of the water, and, thinking that for once I had eluded the sharks, was in the act of swinging it aboard when there was a flash of something white, an ugly snout broke water, and I was left gazing stupidly at half a head which still dangled from my line. The shark had got the rest. Indeed, it was not safe to put a hand over the gunwale, for immediately a head rose towards it.

We had with us in the boat a harpoon and trident, and getting tired of losing our fish, waged war upon the sharks. We harpooned several, which we killed and threw back to their brethren, who voraciously set upon them and tore them to bits. While they were thus distracted we secured a number of fish. There is something sinister and evil-looking about sharks. Some of them grow to large size, attaining a length of thirteen or fourteen feet; there are records of larger ones than that, the largest I know of being twenty-five feet, but this is exceptional. Their mouths, which are composed of a curved slit, are situated on the under surface of the head some distance from the snout. Their teeth, which are sharp and set backwards, are not true teeth, but modified scales. The eyes are small and poorly developed, but they have a phenomenal sense of smell which attracts them from long distances to potential sources of food. Macklin and Hussey dissected the brain of one of them, which showed that the olfactory bulbs—the portion devoted to the sense of smell—is larger than all the rest of the brain.

These rapacious beasts are the most dreaded and most generally hated of all animals in the seas, and have accounted for many sailors who have fallen overboard. They are very suspicious of bait on a line, but have often been caught and hauled on board. It was at one time the custom on sailing ships to perpetrate in revenge all sorts of mutilating atrocities upon them, such as gouging out the eyes and filling the sockets with gunpowder, removing the heart and entrails, afterwards throwing the animal back into the sea to be torn to pieces by others of the species.

In addition to the sharks, we caught with the trident a number of large, round, black-coloured fish of a kind commonly regarded as poisonous. Their flesh looked so firm and white and excellent that we decided to try them. When cooked, they proved to be of good flavour, and no one suffered from the experiment of eating them.

We caught a number of smaller “black fish,” but I took them for specimens only, for I have seen them in other waters and know them as garbage eaters of the worst kind, though it is possible that those we caught here, living far from the filth and sewage of towns, might prove edible enough. The kind, however, of which we obtained the greatest number were yellow and blue.

Merely to sit in the boat and gaze down through these pellucid waters was a pleasure, for the bottom showed clearly, covered with countless seaweeds, whilst over it passed fish of all sizes and of the brightest and most varied colourings in endless panorama.

We enjoyed the day immensely, providing as it did a pleasant change from the routine of ship’s life.

The recall flag was hoisted by the Boss at 4 P.M., when we gathered up our lines and took off the shore parties.

Before finally leaving the rocks we encircled them slowly to enable Worsley to get a series of soundings. There is very little shoaling in the approach to these rocks, which rise sheer and straight from the sea bottom. The soundings of the depth of water round about them, which were verified and amplified by those taken by Worsley on this occasion, show that the “hundred fathom line” is nowhere distant more than four cables from the rocks, and in places is within nine hundred feet.

As we set off on our course we were surrounded by a number of bonito, which followed us in graceful leaps and dives. They can be caught sometimes from the jib-boom by dangling a strong line, baited with a piece of white rag, in the foam of the bow wave. When pulled out of the water they are difficult to hold on account of a strong vibration which is set up by rapid movement of the tail. It is customary to have a sack handy into which the fish is dropped, when it can be safely passed on board.

For a while after leaving St. Vincent the engines had run smoothly, but now they started to give more trouble, requiring the most careful nursing by Kerr and his staff. The rigging also was not proving satisfactory, and the scarfed topmast yielded in a most alarming manner to the strain of the gaff. Sir Ernest Shackleton began to worry tremendously about her condition, and confided to me that he had trusted too much to others in the preparation of the engine-room. The work had been placed in the hands of a consulting engineer in whom he had reason to feel that he could place the most implicit trust.

Sir Ernest decided, however, before continuing the southern part of the expedition, to put into harbour at Rio de Janeiro and make a complete overhaul of every part of the ship under his own direct supervision, though he was possessed of no special engineering knowledge. We had intended calling first at South Trinidad Island, but, conditions becoming worse, we made direct for Rio.

Before entering harbour we repainted the ship, changing the white deck-house and superstructure and the yellow funnel to a uniform naval grey. This was done at the suggestion of Jeffrey, who also entered energetically into the carrying of it out, and there is no doubt that the grey was a much more serviceable colour. The ports, skirtings and boats were painted black, which relieved the monotony of the grey and gave the whole a pleasing effect.

On the night of November 21st we sighted the lights of Rio de Janeiro stretching in a row along the sea shore. It was a lovely still night, and the Boss was in good spirits. We gathered outside the surgeon’s cabin whilst Hussey strummed tunes on his banjo. The Boss loved these little musical gatherings, and though he himself was unable to produce a tune of any sort, he liked listening to music.

The next day dawned with a wonderful sunrise which lit up the mountains round the harbour, tinting them with crimson, rose and pink. A slight mist on the surface of the water was turned into a wonderful red haze, through which appeared the masts and spars of sailing ships at anchor. The harbour is magnificent, dividing with Sydney the claim to be the finest in the world.

We steamed slowly in, past the Sugar Loaf Mountain which guards the entrance to the harbour, and came to anchor opposite the town.

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